With only a handful of gubernatorial races taking place this year, some pundits originally thought the governor’s race in Kentucky could have nationwide importance as an early indicator of voter mood leading into the 2012 presidential race. It has not worked out that way.
If the polls are accurate, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear will easily defeat Senate President David Williams and perennial candidate Gatewood Galbraith to win a second four-year term in Frankfort. But few people think Beshear’s re-election will be any indication of how well President Barack Obama will fare in Kentucky in 2012.
Obama remains extremely unpopular in Kentucky. In 2008, he was swamped by Sen. John McCain in Kentucky and even failed to carry Kentucky in the Democratic primary that year, losing to Hillary Clinton despite having already locked up his party’s nomination.
However, the unpopularity of the Democratic president in Kentucky has not extended to the Democratic governor. Despite the best efforts of Williams and other Republicans to portray Steve Beshear as a strong supporter, the people of this state know better.
They are convinced the governor has done an excellent job of managing the state’s finances in extremely difficult times, and that more than anything else is why he likely will be re-elected.
Beshear’s commanding lead in the polls is why this gubernatorial race has attracted virtually no national attention.
While Beshear’s defeat Tuesday would certainly send a message about the unpopularity of President Obama and the continuing weak economy in this state and in the nation, about the only thing an easy win by Beshear will tell the pundits is that the people of Kentucky are smart enough to distinguish between a president and a governor from the same political party.
While the governor’s race in Kentucky has not drawn much national attention, a veto referendum in neighboring Ohio certainly has. The outcome of Issue 2 in Ohio is viewed as a test of the strength of organized labor in Ohio and the popularly of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who last November defeated incumbent Democrat Ted Stickland.
With Republican majorities in both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate, the new governor steered Senate Bill 5 through the Ohio legislature.
Among other things, SB 5 limits collective bargaining for state employees, teachers and city and county employees, prohibits strikes by public employees and prevents unions from charging “fair share” dues to employees who opt out, making Ohio a “right to work” state when it comes to public employees.
But approval by the legislature was not the final word on SB 5. While Kentucky law prohibits voters from petitioning to place most issues on the ballot, Ohio law does give voters that power, and led by organized labor, a successful campaign was launched to place the fate of SB 5 in the hands of the people. On Tuesday, Ohio voters will decide whether to endorse the law or repeal it.
Legislators in Ohio were hardly alone in enacting a law to limit the rights of public employees to organize into unions and collectively bargain. Tuesday’s referendum is viewed as something of a test of similar laws approved by other states.
If Ohio voters overturn Senate Bill 5, it will be seen as a major victory of labor. However, if they support the law, it likely will encourage even more states to enact laws to limit the bargaining rights of public employees.
While Kasich contends SB 5 is essential for the state to bring the cost of benefits to public workers under control. Ohio Senate Minority Leader Carpi Cafaro has called SB 5 “a highly political assault on the rights of middle-class workers.”
If the polls are accurate, Sebate Bill 5 will be repealed and public employees and organized labor will have scored a major victory. However, Governor Kasich has promised that if voters repeal the law, he will encourage the Republican majorities in the Ohio legislature to again enact a similar law.
Since we in Kentucky do not have a dog in this fight, we will leave it up to our neighbors to the north to decide this issue, but how Ohio voters vote in this issue Tuesday will tell us a lot more about the political mood of the country than who is elected governor in Kentucky.